Comparing today’s computers to 1995’s

We may receive compensation from the providers of the services and products featured on this website. Read our Advertising Disclosure.

NOTE:  We’ve updated this article for the year 2015.  It’s got original pics of ads and reviews from 1995 gaming magazines plus tons of new info, including what VR looked like and promised us 20 years ago.  Be sure to check it out.

I recently stumbled upon a computer science project I did in high school (way back in 1995) entitled “Technology in Society”. We were tasked with finding newspaper articles that demonstrated technology in various work spaces. Discovering a gem like this – especially after a decade and a half has gone by – is eye opening and mind boggling.

Reading through it, I drifted back to my teenage years and recalled my earliest experiences with a PC: the excitement and surprise when reading through Compton’s Encyclopedia; playing DOOM and Wolfenstein with a newly installed sound card; and browsing a primitive Web 1.0 Internet on Netscape Navigator. These experiences would form the foundation for my future career in the online, interactive space.

fall 1995 computer

Home computing has come a very long way, and so I thought I’d share a few of the articles from that 1995 project.

The first article article, written by Paul De Groot and published in 1995 in the Montreal Gazette, goes on to say…

“Let me tell you about a computer advertisement from 1993.

One company was advertising 9,600-baud modems for as low as $500. Dell was selling a top-of-the-line 486 with a 66MHz processor, eight megabytes of RAM and a 320-megabyte hard drive for $4,400.

The single biggest difference is in the hard drive prices. Three hundred dollars got you 80 megabytes, and a one-gigabyte drive from IBM cost more than $3,000. Single speed CD-ROMs sold for $600. Today, if you could buy this hardware, it would cost between 10 and 25% of what it cost two years ago.

Here’s the autumn 1995 version of a basic computer:

Memory (RAM): We seem to have convinced most manufacturers to adopt eight megabytes as standard, compared with four megabytes in 1994. Don’t buy less than eight. The difference in performance between an eight megabyte machine and a four-megabyte machine can be dramatic.

Hard Drives: One-gigabyte hard drives are common this year, compared with the 400-500 megabyte drives of 1994. The price difference between the two is only about $200, and it’s worth it.

Monitors: In 1995, we’re edging into 15-inch monitors as standard, compared with the 14-inchers of the past, but the extra inch adds little. If you really need more monitor, go for a 17-inch screen and pay the $400 premium.

Video: We’re into 24-bit accelerated video cards these days, and while these cards look great in benchmark tests, faster processors and faster circuitry make accelerated video less critical. The 24-bit feature affects color depth – that is, the ability of the computer to display more than 256 colors (which is eight-bit color). A 24-bit card can display up to 17 million colors – nice if you’ve got 24-bit images to look at, but few programs require such depth. You needn’t go to 24-bit color to improve on the standard 256-color display: many inexpensive video cards have 32,000 or 64,000 color modes which are already a substantial improvement.

Sound cards: In 1995, we’re seeing more cards with wavetable synthesis, which provides more realistic representation of musical instruments. But there’s not much software which requires this: the sound of a plasma blaster in DOOM is not a musical instrument. Unless you’re serious about music, you might want to pass on wavetable sound for now.

Modems: The 14.4k modems are on the way out and 28.8 is in. I’d tend toward 28.8 for about an extra $100, but a 14.4 is pretty quick and will capably handle email.

CD-ROMs: In 1994, double-speed drives were mainstream and quad-speed drives were in the future. Well, the future is here. I’d like to say you don’t need to spend extra here, but I think software makers are already assuming people have quad-speed drives. Go for a quad if you can.”

Here is a table to visualize how far we’ve come in 17 years:

1995 PC
2012 PC
8mb at $400 per 4 MB
4 gigabytes is common…, which is 4,000 megabytes
Hard Drive
400 to 1000 megabytes
500 Gigabytes is low end… which is 500,000 megabytes.  500 GB can be as low as $80.  Terabyte drives are common (1,000,000 megabytes) for less than the cost of a 1994, 400MB drive
4,000 MHz+ with multiple cores and countless optimizations (clock speed is not a clear measurement for processing power)
24-bit accelerated
PCI Express 2 (replacing PCI, and then AGP) with 1-2 Gigabytes of dedicated RAM, for about $250
14” CRT
22” wide screen LCD/LED
Sound Blaster 16 (16-bit)
24-bit, PCI Express, 3d, quad core processors with onboard RAM
Obsolete, except for users in very rural areas
Optical Disk
BluRay, DVD, some CD-ROM left…

“Yanks big on home tech”, by David Jundson, 1995 in the Montreal Gazette.

yanks big on homr tech“On a typical day, 24 million Americans use a home computer for some personal or work related task,” reports the Time Mirror Center for the People and The Press in a study. The report found a “new wave” of demographically distinct consumers is joining the ranks of computer users. CD-ROM drives, capable of offering users moving graphics, sound, and access to encyclopedias or games, are proliferating. More than half of new home computer purchases include CD-ROMS.

Commercial on-line services such as Compuserve and America Online, connecting users to such diverse sources as world weather reports or car-buying guides, are rapidly being embraced. From the beginning of 1994 to June of 1995, the number of Americans using online services jumped from 5 million to 12 million.

Other interesting findings:

Among all Americans, 18% do some work from home using a computer. 7% say they operated a home-based business using a computer.

Of the 14 million regular on-line users, 53% are heavy email users, and email is by far the largest category of use. 41% perform work or research, and 30% get news from an on-line service. Also, while women often lag behind men in technology use, not so with email. 65% of women on-line users communicate via email with friends or family, whereas 56% of men report doing so.

The poll found that 32% of households overall have a PC. Of those, 15% have been bought in the past year (between 1994 and 1995). 44% of people under 50 have a PC, which 23% of people over 50 do. The percentage of men owning a computer is 41% compared with 32% for women. The poll found 38% of white households using computers and 23% of African American households doing so.”

To compare with today’s numbers…

2010 data
% Americans who own a computer
Cell phones  85% of adults own cell phones, and 90% of all adults—including 62% of those age 75 and older—live in a household with at least one working cell phone.
Desktop computers are most popular with adults ages 35-65. 70% own a laptop, compared with 57% who own a desktop.
Almost half of all adults own an iPod or other mp3 player —74% of adults ages 18-34 own an mp3 player, compared with only 56% of the next oldest generation (ages 35-46).
Game consoles are popular with all adults ages 18-46, 63% of whom own these devices.
Overall, 5% of adults own an e-book reader, and 4% own an iPad or other tablet computer. (2)
Number of American adults who are on-line
12 million
78.6% (1)

Here’s a graph demonstration gadget ownership amongst adults spanning the years 2006 to 2012. Note the decline of larger desktop machines in favor of portable devices like laptops, tablets, and smart phones.

adult gadgets ownership stats

And here’s a graph that demonstrates the adoption of Internet usage for American adults spanning the years 1995 to 2011:

internet usage in USA

The Nostalgic Geek

I remember my first computer well… It was an IBM Ambra, with a 25MHz processor, 4MB of RAM and a 220 Megabyte hard drive. There was no sound, no video card, and no CD-ROM. Later, we upgraded to 8MB of RAM for $450, and then added a sound card and CD-ROM “multimedia package” for about $600.

Now, I use a desktop, laptop and Blackberry (for work), iPod Touch, iPad 2, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii, and a couple of old server PCs. Plus, I use several cloud based applications for online storage. They’re all interconnected and used on a regular basis. My, how times have changed. And yes, I am a geek.

Do you remember your  first computer? How many computer gadgets do you use on a regular basis?


NOTE:  We’ve updated this article for the year 2015.  It’s got original pics of ads and reviews from 1995 gaming magazines plus tons of new info, including what VR promised us 20 years ago.  Be sure to check it out.